US deputy assistant attorney general, Sung-Hee Suh, said: “Odebrecht [the firm] and Braskem used a hidden but fully functioning Odebrecht business unit – a ‘Department of Bribery,’ so to speak – that systematically paid hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt government officials in countries on three continents.”
The US authorities said that starting in 2001, and lasting for more than a decade, Odebrecht paid $788m (£627m) in bribes to government officials, their agents and to political parties in several countries, to win business orders.
The US Department of Justice said: “The criminal conduct was directed by the highest levels of the company, with the bribes paid through a complex network of shell companies, off-book transactions and off-shore bank accounts.”
Braskem took part in the scheme and between 2006 and 2014, and paid about $250m (£201m) into Odebrecht’s bribery system, US authorities said.
The money was used to bribe politicians and their parties in Brazil as well as to officials of Petrobras.
The result, said the US Justice Department, was that Braskem obtained cheap deals when buying Petrobras materials, obtained contracts with Petrobras, and also gained sweetheart tax deals in Brazil.
“These resolutions are the result of an extraordinary multinational effort to identify, investigate and prosecute a highly complex and long-lasting corruption scheme that resulted in the payment by the defendant companies of close to a billion dollars in bribes to officials at all levels of government in many countries,” said US attorney Robert Capers.
“In an attempt to conceal their crimes, the defendants used the global financial system – including the banking system in the United States – to disguise the source and disbursement of the bribe payments by passing funds through a series of shell companies,” he added.
Braskem is jointly owned by Odebrecht and Petrobras.